Lifrieri's charity work draws visit from Rivera

Dillon Lifrieri has always had a passion for the game of baseball. Spring, summer and fall, you would find him somewhere on the baseball diamond, either pitching, playing shortstop, or patrolling centerfield, his favorite spot. And when he’s not on the field, he’s in batting cage working on his swing. Over the past several years he has played about 100 games annually for various programs, showing the willingness to commit time to the game he loves.

Ahead of the 2011 fall season, Maria, Dillon’s mom, came up with an idea to keep him motivated and focused, and also reward him for his commitment. Dillon would earn “monopoly” money for his performance on the field, getting paid various amounts for hitting stats. The symbolic dough he earned would entitle him to different activities, such as going on a skiing vacation and attending baseball camps. Dillon would also have to keep up his grades or the deal was off.

“When they told me of their idea I laughed, but then I thought about it I realized it would be a good idea,” he said. “I raised about $400 in play money just at the end of the (fall) season and I figured I could raise a lot more in a full season and put it to good use by donating it to charity.”

Dillon pitched an idea to his parents: For the 2012 baseball season he wanted real money, which he would donate to charity. In addition to his parents, he would also solicit family members, friends and business clients of his family to participate. His parents agreed, and Dillon drafted up a letter to send out with different sponsorship levels.

“I knew every time I got a hit during the season, I was raising money for charity,” he said.

In November 2011 Dillon’s dad, Joe, had the winning bid in a silent auction at an Iona Prep charity event. The prize was a 90-minute pitching lesson with Mariano Rivera of the New York Yankees. The lesson would take place in January 2012.

Dillon did some advance research into Rivera’s charity, The Mariano Rivera Foundation, and was inspired by what he read.

“I knew before we met, that Mariano’s foundation was one of the charities that I was going to donate to,” he said. “The other charity would be the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund, which my dad suggested to me.”

Dillon was able to bring his friend and teammate, Chad Knight of Westport, to the lesson, which included lunch with Rivera afterwards. After Rivera talked about his life growing up in Panama, Dillon told Rivera about the reward program and that Chad and he were going to donate the proceeds to Rivera’s foundation.

During a Babe Ruth winter workout session at the Ridgefield High School auxiliary gym on Dec. 7, Dillon, Chad and the other attendees got a surprise visitor: Rivera.

The appearance was arranged by Ridgefielder Angelo Formisano, the Babe Ruth player development director, who is friends with Rivera. Dillon’s dad was among the select few who knew in advance that Rivera was coming.

At the session, Dillon presented Rivera with a check for $6,375 that will be used for the latter’s foundation. The same amount is going toward the Fallen Heroes Fund.

“I was shocked and grateful when they told me what they were going to do,” said Rivera. “These two kids put together a game plan and it worked. What they did was from the heart, and that’s what we need. It’s better to give than receive.”

Rivera indicated that no one had ever raised money for his foundation in such a manner. His foundation focuses on education and does not sponsor any baseball-related projects. It provides adult mentors and computer access to children in need. It is also assisting in the rebuilding of four school buildings in Panama, in addition to a restoration project on a historical church in New Rochelle, N.Y., that will become a community center.

Rivera went on to tell the group of players how blessed and fortunate they were to have the equipment they do to play baseball. “If I wanted a bat, I had to climb a tree and find the straightest branch to make one; my glove was made of cardboard; and balls were made with netting held together with tape,” said Rivera. “But I was happy for what I had. Be grateful for what you have and what your parents give you.”

As for Dillon? He is already planning to use his baseball talents to raise more money next year.